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Working from home – are your employees’ home offices fit for purpose?

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Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of my employer clients have opened new offices, from Sussex to Scotland and further afield in sunnier, overseas locations, such as France, Italy and New Mexico. 

Unfortunately, these businesses were not aware that they had expanded into new office locations.

In fact, their new offices were all located within their employees’ homes, and these clients had no idea that they had effectively expanded their office footprint well outside the confines of the buildings where they used to work.

It is well known that the proportion of workers in the United Kingdom who work entirely, or even predominantly, from home has expanded from a relatively low base to now, where these models are increasingly becoming the norm in a variety of white collar occupations. 


Employees utilising home offices:

Office vs home – how technology can prevent employee divide

Keeping the home office safe in the post-COVID world

Homeworking – are we still loving it?


Until now, commentary on this development has focused on the better work/life balance that these arrangements encourage, and the positive impact on workplace culture and diversity and inclusion.

However, what is less discussed are the issues that employers suddenly face, with many responsibilities for new workplaces for which they have no direct control.

Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and otherwise, employers have a legal duty to protect their employees’ and contractors’ mental and physical health and safety. 

As part of this, employers must conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of all the work activities carried out by their employees, including homeworkers and hybrid workers.

In that context, employers should maintain a contractual right to enter the homes of homeworkers and hybrid workers to carry out risk assessments, as well as to repair, maintain and recover company equipment stored by the worker at home.

Unsurprisingly, few employers, who are doubtlessly anticipating pushback from their employees, are willing to have such a requirement – an employee or worker may look to resist such a requirement citing their right to a private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In my view, the hidden risk in homeworking arrangements will only start to become obvious in the next few years, as the implications of this stealth expansion of the workplace becomes apparent.

While health and safety issues are not at the fore yet, I am already seeing problems arise as a result of lax data protection provisions in the homes of employees.

From confidential papers being left unshredded in the recycling, to cyberattacks being perpetrated via insecure VPN systems - employers are already finding that their employees’ homes are not as secure of an environment for data, compared to their offices.

In my view, employers should not discourage homeworking and hybrid working – far from it. However, to secure this revolution in working patterns, both employers and their workers need to have honest conversations about the effects of expanding their ‘office’ into their employees’ homes.

At an absolute minimum, employers should draw up a robust homeworking policy, making sure all parties are aware of their homeworking and hybrid working rights, and responsibilities. 

 

Martin Pratt is a Partner at law firm Ince, who specialise in employment law, issues at work and employer's issues.